Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“Digging Deep” by Jay Hogan— A Gay Male Midwife

Hogan, Jay. “Digging Deep”, Jay Hogan, 2019.

A Gay Male Midwife

Amos Lassen

Drake Park is a gay male midwife so he is unusual looks he gets from people. He also suffers from Crohn’s disease and his love life is nothing to speak of. Drake has learned that most men can’t really deal with his disease and they are here today and gone tomorrow. It takes a lot of work for Drake to stay healthy and his job takes up the rest of the time. Being alone is the price he pays to be able to work and to stay healthy. But he knows better.  

Caleb Ashton, on the other hand, has a life free of complications. He is senior detective with the Whangarei Police Department and he likes his job and is good at it. He also is a hard work who plays hard as well and he looks forward to have as many men as possible while he is young enough to enjoy them. But his age is working on him and he has begun to feel unmoored. Yet he is very attracted to Drake.

Drake, however, is not sure he is ready to try again and he is unsure that Caleb can cope with the challenges of Crohn’s.  If you are unfamiliar with the disease, do not worry; author Jay Hogan basically explains it. He shows

how the disease affects those who suffer from it and how it impacts their lives. Because of Crohn’s, the romance here moves slowly especially because Drake and Caleb spend a lot of time trying to figure out whether they are up for the difficulties that their life together would be. Of course, there are also the other problems that couples face when they build a relationship as well. They both feel indecision during which Hogan explore the ways they feel for each other. I found it refreshing that this was not an instant relationship and I appreciate getting to know the two characters better. They are both able to joke. about Drake’s illness and we see that when life is rough, humor is good.  
Hogan presents a very real approach to Crohn’s disease and we see how involved it is and how it can put a damper on a sexual relationship. Caleb proved himself to be worthy of Drake by the way he sees Caleb, problems and all. What the two men go through reads as very real and authentic. We really do not get many romances that have a disease thrown it.

I loved Caleb and Drake coming  together and conversing dealing with all of the what ifs. There is a lot of description and we feel the emotions of the characters as we read. I have never read Jay Hogan before and I am now a fan. His book well deserves the Lambda Literary nomination.

“Kiss Me Again” by Leigh Garrett— A Loner Finds Love

Leigh, Garrett. “Kiss Me Again”,   Fox Love Press, 2019.

A Loner Finds Love

Amos Lassen

Aidan Drummond is a tree surgeon who is content with his own company. He works and lives alone he has no ideas of wanting it any differently. When  a life-changing accident sends him to the hospital, he sees a beautiful guy in the bed opposite his and suddenly everything changes. Then a glimpse of  Ludo Giordano, the beautiful boy in the opposite bed changes everything. The ward is filled with old men and Ludo can’t sleep. Then late one night, Aidan appears and they become fast friends. Their unlikely friendship is addictive but it doesn’t last. Aidan returns to the real world and his lonely way of life. However, he misses what Ludo brought to his world and then by chance the two meet again. It did not take long before you did not see one without the other.

Happiness always seems to involve complications of some sort. Aidan’s recovering is going well but it seems that Ludo has never been well for his entire life. Aidan can love him bit is unable to help Ludo health-wise. The two men accept and love each other for exactly who they are with the complications, injuries, mental health issues, moods.

What a beautiful story!! But it is heartbreaking to read that Ludo had a difficult life. His family basically left him behind and he had to learn take care of  himself. He suffered from a Bi-Polar disorder. He finds a way to live his life. When he meets Aidan at the hospital, it is a nice distraction from others in his ward. Aside from being handsome, there is something else about Aidan that makes Ludo like him.  However, as I said earlier, Aidan is a loner and we learn that he had enough human interaction with his father (who died a few years ago) and he isn’t interested in more. Somehow he strikes a friendship with Ludo. Surprisingly enough talking, helping each other out (the little they can), being there for one another is somehow easy.

When Ludo’s time at the hospital comes to an end, both men leave and do not find out about each other.  Of course, they meet again and Ludo realizes how much Aidan needs him and he is determined to help him out. Ludo, with all of his problems, insecurities, anxieties and paranoia, wants what’s best for Aidan.  The sharing the two do caused both of them to move forward and to better appreciate the life around them and the time they spent together.

They began as friends and sharing time together and opening up was difficult. Aidan didn’t always understand Ludo yet he accepted him for who he was and never questioned him. Ludo was aware that Aidan was not social or caring but he threw those labels to the side and was able to see Aidan for who he really is. Together they were a better version of themselves.

The characters were honestly drawn and they certainly were not stereotypical gay men. They were every day guys who saw the beauty in each other and we watched them develop.  

Aiden saw the whole Ludo and sought professional help for him, knowing that he could not help him on his own. Aiden supported him in the ways Ludo needed, by did not seeing him as defective or abnormal when he was ill. When he was on track and not manic, we understand what Aidan saw in him.

Even with his condition, Ludo managed to be selfless and sweet, despite the obvious difficulties he had had to deal with and that he would probably continue to have. He was prepared to accept the help he was offered, and he did listen to reason and rationale and tried to help himself. I loved Aiden because of his treatment of Ludo but it was difficult to understand why Aiden hadn’t tried to break his destructive pattern earlier. It seems that Aidan began to live for Ludo and thus found a more likeable, better person deep inside himself.

Writer Leigh Garrett creates strong personalities in lovely prose, But I especially loved how these two came together. The romance is slow but real with the guys’ connection forming early on and the emotional and physical chemistry building throughout the story.

“Deposing Nate” by Zack Smedley— The Perfect Son?

Smedley, Zack. “Deposing Nathan”, Page Street Kids, 2019.

The Perfect Son?

Amos Lassen

, Nate was the perfect son for sixteen years. This was the result of the way he was raised and his deep religious faith. Bur then he met Cam, who pushed him to break rules, dream, and accept himself. Nate was filled with and began to push back. The more he pushed, the more he and Cam became more a part of each other’s worlds…but they also spiraled closer to their breaking points. Once it all fell it apart after a fistfight-turned-near-fatal-incident, Nate is left with a stab wound and Cam is in jail. 

Nate is ordered to give a statement, under oath, that will send Cam, his best friend to prison. The problem is that what really happened between them isn’t as simple as anyone thinks. Nate must make his confessions about what led up to that night with Cam and risk tearing both of their lives apart.

When Nate meets Cam who encourages him to question rules and dare to be independent, his sheltered life begins to feel  like it is stifling him and he starts pushing back a little. As the relationship between them develops, both boys reach a breaking point and a brutal fight ensues with attempted murder charges following. The story is narrated in two separate time lines. In the first, Nate has been able to recover from being stabbed, and he spends several days giving the deposition that could send Cam to jail. It is here that a nuanced story comes out.  Several twists and turns show  the tenuous relationships between the boys and between Nate and his family and Nate’s personal struggle to accept his own identity. We read of small acts of rebellion against strict parents and traditions of faith, of Nate questioning his sexual identity, and a love triangle. This is a story about complex relationships in which the reader constantly reevaluates events.

We are reminded of the awkward and complex experiences of discovering one’s sexuality and falling in love. We are on an emotional ride as we read about love, religious belief, and self- acceptance.

Nathan is deceitful both to himself and to those he loves. He had brainwashed by his church to believe bisexuality would send him to hell and is living with his  controlling, emotionally abusive aunt Lori, his dead mother’s sister who acts as his  parent. His father is out of the picture.

 In meeting Cameron on the first day of junior year, Nate doesn’t expect to start experimenting sexually. He has a girlfriend.  Less than a year later, Nathan is being deposed at Cam’s pretrial hearing for having stabbed Nate. We see that facts aren’t always as they seem and over the next three days Nathan tells the story of his relationship with Cam and the events that led up to the hearing.

Writer Zack Smedley excellently shows the love a child feels for an abusive parent (aunt), as Nate takes on the burden of deserving the maltreatment and not realizing that Aunt Lori, the abuser is to blame.

Both Cam and Nate are seen questioning and in that experimental stage of understanding their sexualities. They were two friends trying out any form of teenage rebellion  and while sexual orientation isn’t rebellion, it felt as it was to Nate and Cam.

The story seamlessly moves back and forth between the deposition and flashbacks. Nate has flaws but he is likeable and it often hurt to read of his attempts to avoid the truths because of one event. The story itself is twisted and difficult and Nate is full of self-loathing and comes across as unsympathetic at times. The characters are complex and there is a lot to be gleaned from the story about relationships.

“Big Familia: A Novel” by Tomas Moniz— Meet Juan

Moniz, Tomas. “Big Familia: A Novel”, Acre Books, 2019.

Meet Juan

Amos Lassen

Juan Gutiérrez is a self-employed single father who is dealing with a year of inescapable change. His daughter, Stella, is going away to college; his lover, Jared, is pressing him for commitment; and his Nick’s Lounge, his favorite bar, a dive presided is transitioning into a karaoke hotspot. Tomas Moniz’s “Big Familia” is set in a neighborhood that is also changing with gentrification inciting the established community.

With the unexpected death of one of the bar’s regulars, Juan is sent reeling and this is followed by a series of upheavals as he both looks for and avoids intimacy. He is reminded of his parents’ marriage as he struggles with his sexuality. Juan spends his time cycling, dating and drinking at Nicks Lounge, and being a father to a determined and defiant child who is becoming an adult woman.

When his incarcerated father dies and his daughter tells him that she’s pregnant, Juan is forced to examine the himself and  to reassess his ideas of commitment, of friendship and of love. His meetings with his mother, his ex-wife, a middle-aged punk rocker, an acupuncturist and a veteran make Juan realize that he has to change.

Juan represents the ways identity connects and divides us and his story explores desire, devotion, and the mysteries of the heart. Juan’s coming-of age comes late when he is already middle-aged. As he does come-of-age he has to deal with the issues of racism and homophobia, gentrification and police brutality. Even with that, this is a sweet novel that looks at family.

Writer Moniz brings us a diverse cast on the verge of transformation where options are tested, comfort zones are disregarded and new bonds are part of daily life.

He captures the joys and uncertainties of family life in modern-day Berkeley. Juan’s mistakes and miscalculations about romantic and familial make the story bittersweet. The novel is both personal and lyrical as it looks at shame, caring and belonging. The characters are like people we know and we see their

humanity. Juan must let go of his teenage daughter while he tries to open himself up to a man who loves him. All of the characters defy all stereotypes and the first-person narration is from the heart. This is a book that touches the reader.

 

“Best Man” by Chris Delyani—- Friendship, Love and Partnership

Delyani, Chris. “Best Man”, Independently Published, 2019.

Friendship, Love and Partnership

Amos Lassen

Frank Mercer is a forty-year-old high school math teacher who is recently divorced from his husband and having a rough time finically, especially making mortgage payments. He thinks his problems might be solved by a romance with Jonathan Butler, his old friend and a man he has secretly admired for over twenty years. The problem is that Jonathan is engaged to Marcus Pierce, his unfaithful longtime boyfriend. When Jonathan asks Frank to serve as best man at his wedding, Frank has to decide whether to support his friend or tell him how he really feels.

Julio Robles is Frank’s roommate and a popular yoga teacher. Julio’s star student is Marcus, Jonathan’s fiancé and Frank’s nemesis. Marcus has made it clear he’d like more from Julio than yoga lessons. Frank asks Julio to act as his boyfriend on a dinner date with Jonathan and Marcus and Julio quickly accepted the invitation but soon finds himself in over his head. Frank and Julio make up a fake relationship in contrast to Marcus and Jonathan’s real relationship (if it is indeed real) and we do not know which relationship is real and which relationship is fake? The story deals with fundamental questions about love, friendship, and what it means to be true to one’s partner.

This is both a comedy of errors and a comedy of manners as well as an introspective look at the characters. Marcus’s ego threatens everyone near him yet Jonathan, is somehow in love with Marcus and wants to marry him. We see that lies beget lies and the story becomes more involved as Frank tries to balance Marcus’ aggression against his own passivity. The web here becomes really tangled but writer Chris Delyani’s works thing out. The more I read the more captivated I became.

There is no erotica or wild sex scenes here and we read about realistic meetings, lies and partners who cheat. It is all very down to earth and a fun read that has something to say. It is quite classy and written in eloquent prose with excellent characterization.  

“Rewind” by Marshall Thornton— Ready to Date Again

Thornton, Marshall. “Rewind”, (Pinx Video Mysteries), Independently Published, 2019.

Ready to Date Again

Amos Lassen

Set on Valentine’s Day, 1993, Marshall Thornton’s “Rewind” introduces us to Noah who has been single for years. He decides that he is finally ready to date again but things really do not go well. After he and his date spend their first night together, Noah wakes up  covered in blood and his date, lying next to him is dead. Already convinced Noah has an abnormal attraction to murder, Detective Wellesley believes that Noah is attracted to murder and he has killed. Noah and his friends Marc and Louis now have to prove his innocence.

Noah Valentine is a nice guy and a real friend but he is now managed to get himself involved in murder. He just wants is to manage Pinx, his video store in Silver Lake, and deal with the reality of living with HIV. Even in his gentility, we see that he has resilience and strength and he will need it.

Marc and Louis are Noah’s family of choice. They are a couple who really take care of him. They cook for him, worry about him and help him when needed. Noah’s mother is an off-page character and is smart and loving but she is Noah’s mother and that puts her in a special place in his heart.  Noah’s other friend’s Leon and Robert, have their parts here and Javier O’Shea, the closeted detective is mixed Mexican-Irish and an opposite to Noah in almost every way. For Noah, Xavier represents his ideal and the kind of man that Noah really wants, but also what he thinks he can’t have. Noah lives his own fears about his future. 

Thornton who is known as a mystery writer develops his story by looking at the motives that make people do what they do and this is something that bothers Noah. Because he feels that he does not deserve happiness, he denies the chance of achieving it.

The mystery here is solid as we have come to expect from the author (a three time Lambda award winner). I have not read the preceding volumes in the series but have been told that it would be wise to do so and I probably will, Nonetheless this stood up on its own and I loved the many references to culture.

“Death Takes a Bow” by David S. Peterson— Murder at the Theater

Pederson, David S. “Death Takes a Bow”, (Detective Heath Barrington Mystery), Bold Strokes Books, 2019.

Murder at the Theater

Amos Lassen

Policeman Alan Keyes takes a break from his police duties to try acting itch in a local stage production. Then when the leading man is murdered during the opening night performance, Keyes’ partner Detective Heath Barrington tries to find the killer. Alan soon learns that theater has a deadly past and ghostly ideas surrounding it. There is a telegram that seems to have come from the world beyond.

The book begins with  the dress rehearsal for a Milwaukee theatre production “Death Comes to Lochwood.”  Within the large cast of characters , there are those that have a past in which a fellow actor has died or been betrayed. There is a drunken husband / ingenue wife pair, Oliver Crane, a director who wants to fill the house and an actor who is shooting for a role in a film by Alfred Hitchcock. Then there is Alan Keyes who has a small role and a Broadway star who is so obnoxious that no one can stand him. There is one more character; a ghost who haunts the theater. All of these become suspect in the murder.

Writer David Pederson cleverly uses the pre-opening night cast party to tells us about the characters and we learn about not only who they are but also about their pasts. Then Shelby Berkett, is murdered on-stage on opening night and Heath Barrington and Alan try to solve the murder.

Suspicions fall on Crane since his finances depend on the success of this play, Jazz Monroe, Milwaukee’s sweetheart who has a secret, and the handsome actor Henry Hawthorne, who is interested Alan. Alan seems to return his attentions and Heath has to deal with this in his own way and decide what is real, what is pretense, who’s acting and who’ is lying.

This is in the mode of old fashioned mysteries with lots of unpleasant characters and an interesting subplot between Heath and Alan. The book is the fourth in the Detective Heath Barrington Mystery series. I read it as a stand-alone and it was easy to follow.
Detective Heath Barrington is an observer of detail. Because of Alan, he is in the theatre the night murder is committed.

While this is classified as LGBTQ literature, it is important to say that this is not per se a “gay mystery”. Rather it is a mystery with gay characters. That Heath and Alan are a couple is part of the story, but it’s subtle and really takes place off-page. Their relationship is just a relationship and the fact that they are two men is not really important.

The rest of the cast is a collection of really unpleasant people. I found some of the supporting characters to be really interesting and this shows the author’s ability for characterization.

“Exquisite Mariposa: A Novel” by Fiona Alison Duncan— Self-discovery

Duncan, Fiona Alison. “Exquisite Mariposa: A Novel” , Soft Skull Press, 2019.

Self-discovery

Amos Lassen

Fiona Duncan’s coming of age story is a meditation on materialism, media, power, performance, and sexuality uses inventive, of-the-moment language to tackle that circuitous route to self-discovery in the age of Trump.

Duncan has always been curious about the trends around her. After years of searching for answers in books and astrological charts and working as a celebrity journalist to make rent, she discovers another way of existing: “in the Real, a phenomenological state few humans live in.”

Her journey to this took her to Koreatown, Los Angeles, where she sublets a room in La Mariposa. There she asks if she can rewrite her life and this is her answer to that question. In the novel she and her friends  look at questions of “art making and economies, breakups and breakdowns, and the Internet and its many obsessions.”

This is actually a meditation of “semi-private thoughts about sex, relationships, trauma, healing practices, god, magic, psychic powers, friendship, self-fulfillment, self-betrayal, gender, sexuality, writing, class divide, money, media, fashion, art, mental illness and divine love” and there are all moving parts of Duncan’s world.

She seems to be find people when they need to be found and at a time where people want to connect though community, and fight isolating themselves in a world where individuality is highly prized and sought. People work and pray to remove expectation around the ideal life to live.

The plot is thin and filled with the New Age something I have never understood or even bothered to try to understand. Because of that the novel did not really speak to me even with its lovely prose.

This is a look at a generation that was “ born on the boundary of bastard boomer billionaires and the repeated failure of the sexual revolution.” The book questions what is real.
The storyline is of several women sharing an apartment called the Mariposa in Los Angeles and they also share stories of friendship, self-discovery, relationships, branding, public relations, a proposed reality television show about her friends, dildos and survival. We see the importance of community. We reconsider God in light of what we read here and how it feels to be alive today.

“Texas Crude: Stories” by Thomas Kearns— Sordid Passions, Literary Porn

Kearnes, Thomas. “Texas Crude: Stories”, Lethe Press, 2019.

Sordid Passions, Literary Porn

Amos Lassen

Thomas Kearnes’s collection of short stories, “Texas Crude” is quite bold and transgressive. Our characters here are fueled by alcohol and drugs in an atmosphere where maturity is eschewed. The landscape is one of roadside bars and western vistas populated with men looking for sexual release with other men or just plain rest.

Loaded with “smut” and “camp”, we still see humanity but of a different kind and that is man was not meant to be alone. Here the men want to give themselves to each other and sometimes that comes only with the help of crystal meth. Love, if it is indeed love, comes uneasily or not at all. It all seems to be for the pursuit of happiness, be at momentary or long range.

This is erotica and therefore should not shock yet it still manages to do so. The prose is compelling reading and I found myself turning pages quickly thinking that no one should know that I read porn. But there is also what I call “literary porn” and that is what I think “Texas Crude” is.

When we begin to read the early stories, we meet unsavory, unlikeable characters who are shallow and totally pretentious. The men are blue-collar, young, white Texans whose only goals are sexual. But that changes about halfway-through and once into the collection, I find myself really into the action. Here is a book where the men all seem to be transgressive yet with sense and desires. The writing becomes very candid and the stories become very interesting. Living on the edge characters are not for everyone.

 

“A Spectral Hue” by Craig Laurence Gidney— Art, Obsession and Ghosts

Gidney, Craig Laurence. “A Spectral Hue”, Word Horde , 2019.

Art, Obsession and Ghosts

Amos Lassen

The marsh-surrounded town of Shimmer, Maryland has hosted a loose congregate of African-American artists, all of whom  work in different media, but all using the same haunting color. This art includes landscape paintings, trompe l’oeil quilts, decorated dolls, mixed-media assemblages, and more, all with the same peculiar hue, a pigment “somewhere between purple and pink, the color of the saltmarsh orchid, a rare and indigenous flower.”

Graduate student Xavier Wentworth finds himself drawn to Shimmer ; he hopes to study the work of artists like quilter Hazel Whitby and landscape painter Shadrach Grayson in detail. Xavier experienced something like an epiphany when viewing a Hazel Whitby tapestry as a child. He will also find that others  have been drawn to Shimmer and they are called there by something more than art, something in the marsh itself, a mysterious, spectral hue.

I was immediately drawn into “A Spectral Hue” thinking that the idea is a wonderful approach to a novel with is air of mystery. This is, of course, a fantasy and the emphasis is on obsession and artistic pleasure. Xavier met Hazel when he was just a child and he became completely fascinated with her quilts. His obsession with this is what brought him to Shimer and saw that it is a place for which time is unimportant. He had come to write his Master’s thesis on the black artists that came from the town.

He soon has suspicions that many of these artists, especially queer ones, were inspired by something from a nearby marsh. Xavier’s story comes to us piecemeal, told through chapters that incorporate the perspectives of several of Shimmer’s residents, Gidney brings forth questions about the nature of art and its effect on artists. What he shares with us is disturbing and unsettling.

This is a tale of identity that although it is a fantasy  seems to be very real. It mixes horror, folklore, dark fantasy, and magic realism that is haunting. Even though the book is short,  there are multiple points of view across different historical eras, and a carefully detailed background featuring an entire fictional art movement.

Upon his arrival in Shimer, Xavier rents an AirBnB from Iris, a woman whose past ties her to the artists Xavier wants to learn about. There is Linc, a drifter who is trying to find a job in Shimmer and Fuchsia who has been around for seemingly forever.

Aspects of horror are present, and the past of Shimmer is rooted in slavery, but this is fantasy even with the presence of supernatural creatures and happenings. We see the interaction of magic and tradition. The mysteries of the art are revealed hypnotically to the black folk in the town while the white visitors to the museum dismiss it all as primitive and idiosyncratic folklore that is more craft than art. There is a white museum staff member who knows endless factual details about the art, but who stops  mysterious events from happening but does not realize the power he has. The white people in Shimer seem to be involved in some way. The Ogress is an elderly, disabled white Scottish woman who knows the power of magical places still. She comes from a place with its own marshland tradition but she is from the past, not the present.

The depictions of spirituality and its interrelationships with art are brilliant and even though the art movement is fictional, it seems to be very real.

The story is actually about queer people searching for community and belonging as seen through  African-Americans in relationship with a landscape that was forced upon them but that they came to know  and live in intimately. We read of artistic obsession and the fear and ecstasy that comes out of and how culture seeks to rope it in, understand it and label it.  We also see the ways that humans adaptor choose not to.

Inspiration and creativity best oppression and we see this through the group of people who have been drawn to Shimmer through time and are haunted by a creative force that could reveal their full selves. We certainly see America’s legacy of racism and homophobia through personal connections and a small town and it is disturbing yet the book is not depressing. Rather, it is inspiring.